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Targeting the farmers

April 14, 2013

-Photo by APP

HYDERABAD: The agriculture sector has attracted the attention of all the major parties as they got down to the preparation of their respective election manifestos. The PPP, for instance, seeks to modernise agriculture and enhance production under the proposed ‘People’s Agriculture Programme’ to ensure five per cent growth rate in the sector as against the current 3.1 per cent.

The party has vowed to line all water channels which, if implemented, would undoubtedly be a major initiative.

The PML-N has resolves to turn agriculture into a fully-viable economic industry by changing the policy framework and terms of trade. Besides, it would seek parliamentary approval for adding a new article to the Constitution to make ‘Right to Food’ a fundamental right of every citizen within a reasonable timeframe.

The PTI has committed to allocate 65 per cent of ADP funds for agricultural and rural development. Like the other two parties, it has also discussed irrigation and land reforms while promising to monitor the ownership of the distributed state land and to ensure credit and agriculture support services for the farmers.

In theory, the manifestos are comprehensive as far as agriculture is concerned. The implementation part is something that is making the stakeholders to, at best, adopt a wait-and-see approach.

“The manifestoes look good, but I don’t know how the parties plan to arrange credit for the farmers. The Zarai Taraqiati Bank Limited (ZTBL) only makes up for only eight per cent of the loans at present,” argued Mehmood Nawaz Shah, General Secretary of the Sindh Abadgar Board. He said the agrarian economy stands at $50 billion and the sector needs an explanation how the parties will ensure credit through the private sector,” he said.

He was, however, appreciative of PPP’s commitment towards land reforms the People’s Agriculture Programme, which would encourage export-oriented crops. Another aspect of the PPP manifesto that impressed Shah was the livestock revenue enhancement plan under which women from selected rural households will be provided with requisite livestock resources to earn a sustainable income. “This is something really encouraging for rural women, provided it is implemented properly,” he added.

Nabi Bux Sathio, General Secretary of the Sindh Chamber of Agriculture, was critical of the fact that the PPP had promised flat rate for tube-wells but it had itself discontinued its application three years ago. He appreciated the party’s resolve that it would line water channels, which, he said, would ensure water conservation.

Sathio is impressed by PTI’s manifesto which promises 65 per cent of ADP allocations for agriculture and rural development. However, he opposed the proposal of “price fixation of irrigation water”, arguing that not all farmers use laser levelling which is an expensive option. Instead, he supported PPP’s proposal related to solar-powered tube-wells and better support price for wheat, cotton, sugarcane and rice.

Sathio said that revitalising corporate farming would only benefit the managers of cooperatives and not small growers, calling the PML-N plans vague.

According to Nadeem Shah, a progressive farmer, PPP had repeated itself in terms of promises, while the PML-N didn’t come up with any fresh idea either. It is the PTI proposal of ensuring a balance between the cost of production and the price of crop that seemed to have satisfied him the most. “It is a reasonable commitment,” Shah said.

The PTI manifesto has also made a major pledge to introduce “a nationwide crop and livestock insurance scheme”, which may have positive implications in the wake of floods that have visited Sindh in recent years.

PML-N in the only party, however, that has directly addressed the issue of natural disasters, setting a target of prioritising routes destroyed by such calamities and building villages in all disaster zones.

Surprisingly, no party has even once mentioned the drainage sector which matters the most in the development of farmlands. In Sindh’s context, it attains significance as the province serves to take the entire drainage of upcountry to the sea through two different drainages. One of them, the Right Bank Outfall Drain (RBOD) lies incomplete even after a decade, while the Left Bank Outfall Drain (LBOD) has been a disaster in itself.